One philosophical doctrine I learned during my undergraduate study which has stuck with me is Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Distilled to it’s most essential point, the CI holds that no human (or other rational agent) should take an action which they do not wish to be made universally acceptable to all other agents. It’s basically the Golden Rule written for grownups.
The main issue most people have (myself included) with following the Categorical Imperative is that it requires one to place duty above desire. This requires that agents respect whatever it is that makes an action a duty--for example, in order to obey the law against stealing that prevents you from shoplifting, you must respect the agencies and authorities that put that law in place. You might choose not to. However, Kant argues that as rational beings, there is an internal law which we must answer to--the law of moral duty. To quote Robert Johnson’s entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“The force of moral requirements as reasons is that we cannot ignore them no matter how circumstances might conspire against any other consideration. Since they retain their reason-giving force under any circumstance, they have universal validity. So, whatever else may be said of moral requirements, their content is universal.”
So with this point in mind, I pose myself and you the reader an important question of our times: what is the American duty toward the people of Iraq? How should we act, and are we comfortable with that action becoming universally acceptable?
I think it’s safe to say that we certainly wouldn’t want any of our actions up until now to become universal law. I would argue that the invasion of Iraq was itself a violation of the CI. According to the 2005 “Downing Street Memo” published in The Sunday Times, "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."
Let me restate that to be sure it’s clear to you--the intelligence and facts were being fixed. To support the policy of invading Iraq. Let’s hope the people of China, France, or Korea don’t choose to fix up some facts and start bombing Washington because they don’t like our government leader. Or our government. Or our actions. Or the amount of money we owe them.
But, at any rate, the lack of justification for the invasion of Iraq and the nine years of death which followed is something of old news. Let’s let bygones be bygones, right? We’ve all agreed it was a mistake, let’s just bring the troops home.
Except now, in case you haven’t heard, Iraq is right back to square one. Insurgents are storming Baghdad and all those civilians--the ones to whom we made promises of democracy, peace, and freedom--are probably feeling pretty bitter. I can’t even imagine the emotions of veterans who served there, who come home to see their work undone. So now we weigh our options. Do we leave Iraq to its own devices, so sorry, thanks for trying men and women of our armed forces? Or do we continue to support--whichever side we think is less likely to turn out to be insane? Is it really our job to play military mediator between two sects of Islam who have been snapping at each other since Muhammad died in 632? To change and reshape a nation who never asked for our help?
I don’t think it was our job, but it has become our job. We picked it up, shouldered it ourselves--well, maybe more accurately it was picked up for us, by people who themselves did not hold with the Categorical Imperative. But now we must try to do so, in the most measured way possible. We cannot leave the civilians of Iraq to suffer civil war after we destroyed their government. However, we also cannot stop that war, without somehow completely dismantling a massive network of insurgents and changing the nature of Islam itself. It’s an impossible thing, literally. So we must find a middle road, which meets our vested duty without continuing to play Atlas to the troubles of the Middle East.
"Survival of the Fittest?" We should leave them to their own devices? Perhaps that will be the end result. But I sure hope we're right about who is most fit in the end.
Many people are bitching about the cost of continued involvement--and it’s true, it’s been expensive to poke our nose in, and it will remain so. Nobel-laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and public finance expert Linda Blimes deduced that, when you take into account long-term care for vets, interest on debt, and replacement of military hardware, the US has been spending around $720 million PER DAY of this conflict.
Take a moment. Let that number sink in. $720 million per day, and for nothing?
Our country has sold future generations to this war, and we’re just supposed to call it a wash?
If the humanitarian, moral side of this discussion doesn’t appeal to you, maybe the financial one will. Let’s see some return on our investment. Let’s try to make something good out of this fiasco, which started from greed and ambition, near as I can tell. Continued air support to the fledgling Iraqi democracy will support their efforts to create stability without requiring us to put more troops on the ground.
“Fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity.” I know, it doesn’t make sense. It might never work. But nonviolence is our last option at this point. The stakes have been set for us. We have to meet them, or risk setting a standard for international conduct and conflict which we will certainly not want enacted back onto us when our hegemony has declined.